Two feature films screened at Cannes (including the Camera d’Or). An actress behind the camera. A disturbing horror film. A look back at the latest films seen at the Deauville Festival.
The bridge between the Cannes and Deauville festivals is still just as solid. And even more since 2020 and the establishment of the section “The Hour of the Croisette”which will allow spectators to discover the Palme d’Or Without filter at the end of the week.
In the meantime, two feature films screened at Cannes in May are now in Competition. Starting with War Pony by Riley Keough and Gina Gammell, winner of the Caméra d’Or which rewards the best first film seen on the Croisette, all sections combined. Also in the spotlight, the poignant Aftersun by Charlotte Wells with Paul Mescal, revealed by Normal People, and screened in Critics’ Week last May.
Among the other films of the day, note the presentation of Scrap signed Vivian Kerr, in which we find Lana Parrilla, ex-evil queen of Once Upon a Time. The horror film Blood by Brad Anderson (The Machinist), which revives the genre. And the thriller At the Gates, starring Noah Wyle and Miranda Otto.
Aftersun by Charlotte Wells – Competition
Like his partner Normal People Daisy Edgar-Jones, seen recently in Where the crayfish sing, Paul Mescal shines in the cinema. And reminds us that we were right to bet on him. In the first feature film directed by Charlotte Wells, he plays Calum, father of 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio), with whom he goes on vacation. He wants their stay to be perfect, but every little annoyance seems to affect him more than it should, and his mood darkens as the days go by.
From the first sequence, taken from a family film where he seems to be slipping away when Sophie asks him if his current life is the one he dreamed of when he was younger, aftersun makes us feel that something is wrong. That this father is taking too much on himself for the sake of his daughter, until he can’t anymore. In many first feature films, a twist would have changed the story, and many scenes make us fear that this is the case here.
But no. Charlotte Wells stays on a priori normal sequences and takes the risk that spectators have difficulty entering the story, while she gives some leads in the absence of concrete answers. Until a flash forward allows us to see it a little more clearly and to understand, in particular, the importance of videos shot with a camcorder and the point of view of the narration. From then on, Aftersun, and without departing from its remarkable simplicity and delicacy, becomes more and more moving, to end on a magnificent final level, both in form and content.
Everything suggests that it is an autobiographical story, which Charlotte Wells refuses to confirm. It’s a safe bet, however, that the filmmaker has put a lot of herself into this first film which passed Cannes Critics’ Week, given the importance given to images and her way of staging memories. Personal or not, the result is very strong. And it’s our Competition favorite so far.
War Pony by Riley Keough & Gina Gammell – Competition
After Cannes, it was in Deauville that the shadow of Elvis Presley hovered thanks to his granddaughter who distinguished herself with her first achievement. Seconded by Gina Gammell (co-producer of Dixieland, in which she played), Riley Keough takes his first steps behind the camera and takes us to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (South Dakota) to tell the coming-of-age story of two young people trying to get by. Stop falling into illegality.
Those who have seen the very beautiful The Rider by Chloé Zhao will perhaps feel on familiar ground, because the Oscar-winning filmmaker had filmed in the same region. We also think of the series Reservation Dogs, which explores the same themes, or American Honey by Andrea Arnold, already with Riley Keough in the cast, which showed an America too often left out of the cinema.
Carried by stunningly natural non-professional actors (many of whom were present for the official screening, and very moved by the applause reserved for them), War Pony impresses with its mastery, which is barely marred by a few lengths in the story. . The two directors offer us a tale that is sometimes serious and light, which slightly flirts with fantasy and does not take long to seduce us. After the Caméra d’Or (prize given to the best first feature, all Cannes sections combined) and the Palm Dog, which rewards the best dog seen in a film, will their opus be awarded the Grand Prix de Deauville?
Scrap by Vivian Kerr – Competition
In English, “scrap” means “waste” or “waste”. And that’s undoubtedly what the three main characters of the first feature film written, directed and played by the actress Vivian Kerr (Castle), based on the short of the same name of which she was only the screenwriter in 2018. We follow Beth, a single mother who finds herself forced to live in her car and tries to hide her situation from her brother Ben ( Anthony Rapp).
Which is a writer out of inspiration as fans eagerly await the next volume in his fantasy saga. And who has been trying for three years to have a child with his wife Stacy, played by Lana Parilla. Seen recently as an evil queen in the series Once Upon a Time, then as a deadly housewife in Why Women Kill, the actress finds here a more down to earth role in which she excels. Like his partners.
Despite the feeling of deja vu that emanates from this story where the protagonists struggle with their respective lives, their relationships and the unspoken they entail, Scrap ends up gaining membership. Thanks to the accuracy of the emotions he releases as this story unfolds, which evokes appearances, the things we say and those we keep quiet. All with a positive (but not blissful) spirit, which could help him reach the public.
Blood by Brad Anderson – Premiere
Director of The Machinist, Brad Anderson came to Deauville in 1998, with the romantic comedy Et plus si affinités, which won him the Grand Prix and the Audience Award. As he explains in the message broadcast in the preamble, his new opus is less romantic, and much less funny. Blood indeed marks his return to horror, he who also signed Session 9 and The Empire of Shadows in the genre.
Just moved in with her two children in an old farm, following her separation from their father, Jess (Michelle Monaghan) sees her life turn upside down the day her son Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is bitten by their dog and develops a curious infection. While she has to fight with her ex-husband for the custody of her children, this nurse will have to show, in a completely different way, that she is ready for anything for them.
The result is a bloody film. Very. But maybe not as we imagine. And who’s not afraid to be disturbing or very serious, even if the rapid gradation of events in the first half drew some laughs. If Brad Anderson’s know-how is there, Blood is fishing on the script side: despite his desire to revisit the myth of the vampire through a human and family prism, he goes a long way and the choices of certain characters may seem incoherent. But the filmmaker was not wrong when he announced a completely different atmosphere than that of Et plus si affinités.
At the Gates by Augustus Meleo Bernstein – Premiere
It is customary to say that a festival like that of Deauville makes it possible to take the pulse of America through the films that are presented. Covid obliges, it is not uncommon to come across stories that speak of physical or mental confinement. As At the Gatesthe first feature film by Augustus Meleo Bernstein, who admits having written during the confinement this story of a Salvadoran cleaning lady and her son, forced to live in their employers’ basement to escape the agents of the immigration.
In any case, this is what the Barris couple tell them (played by Miranda Otto and Noah Wyle), who also took their mobile phones, to limit any risk of geolocation. Which, inevitably, gives rise to doubts about their true intentions, especially since the relationship does not take long to become strained. What is this family hiding? This is what Nico (Ezekiel Pacheco), the son of Ana (Vanessa Benavente) will try to find out.
If it lasts less than 100 minutes, At the Gates shows some lengths in the middle of its story, and almost gives the impression that the screenwriter and director does not know where to go, while the music, omnipresent, supports the thriller side. But Augustus Meleo Bernstein pulls himself together and surprises, maintaining the ambiguity until the end of this imperfect but very promising first essay, which does not hesitate to pin down the migration policy of the United States.
Stay Awake by Jamie Sisley – Competition
Unlike Aftersun, on which its director cast doubt, Stay Awake assumes its autobiographical tendencies. Director Jamie Sisley has indeed claimed to have been inspired by his own youth to tell the story of his first fiction feature film: that of a teenager and his big brother, confronted with the addiction of their mother. And at those repetitive moments when they have to interrupt everything to pick her up and whistle film music that she has to recognize, to stay awake.
Hence the title of this dramatic comedy which sometimes makes you think of This Is Us, helped by the presence of Chrissy Metz in the role of the mother. But the latter is only secondary in the film, which focuses more on its helpers, namely Ethan (Wyatt Oleff, the Stanley of It) and Derek (Fin Argus, seen in the new version of Queer as Folk), who cannot move on and enter the adult world.
Stay Awake thus has the merit of changing the point of view, compared to the majority of addiction stories, even if it contains many classic ingredients of this type of American independent film. But nonetheless it works. The mixture of comedy and drama is well balanced, the sincerity of the project is felt, and the absence of risk-taking on the side of the staging is compensated by the accuracy of its emotions. If it wins the Audience Award, we wouldn’t be surprised at all.